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Oversight Matters: Q&A with The Honorable Dan G. Blair

By Beverly Hudnut

With public trust in government at a low point, BPC’s Task Force on Enhancing Congressional Oversight examines best practices as it considers recommendations to strengthen the role of inspectors general to improve Congress’s ability to provide effective oversight of federal agencies and departments.

The Honorable Dan G. Blair, BPC Senior Counselor and Fellow, leads this effort on behalf of the Democracy Project team at BPC. Blair is the former President and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration and led the Office of Personnel Management as Deputy Director/Acting Director and chaired the Postal Regulatory Commission in the George W. Bush Administration.

Read the Q&A with Dan Blair below. 

What is the role of an Inspector General (IG)?

An IG has a statutorily defined role to act as an independent and objective unit within an agency or department to combat waste, fraud, and abuse in the programs and operations. IGs are responsible for conducting audits and investigations and recommend policies to enhance the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of agency programs and operations.

Today, IGs perform a wide range of duties depending on the agency. Some perform in a more traditional manner of identifying waste, fraud, and abuse, while others have evolved into an independent management role in assisting agencies and their programs in becoming more efficient and effective. The foundational principle shared by all IGs is assuring their independence in reviewing agency operations.

Do IGs play well with others?

A traditional view is that IGs serve as “watch dogs” in reviewing agency operations and that their findings and recommendations, while independent, have had a flavor of an “I gotcha” quality. The best IGs work independently with agency leadership and walk a careful line in maintaining their
independence while positively assisting agency leadership in enhancing agency operations.

Do they coordinate their work?

Congress in 2008 formally created the Council of IGs on Integrity and Efficiency. This council of IGs includes all IG offices—big and small—presidentially appointed IGs and agency head IGs. Known as CIGIE, the Council recently released a report outlining critical issues that involve the jurisdiction of more than one individual IG office. This kind of collaboration was envisioned by the 2008 Act and CIGIE is
encouraging IG offices to be more proactive in collaborating across agency lines when issues area shared
by more than one office. 

Has an IG ever altered the course of history?

Work by the Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs) have resulted in criminal convictions and have become part of the lexicon of those who describe instances of waste, fraud, and abuse in government. The Department of Defense IG did important work in unveiling cases such as Tail Hook and the Fat Leonard scandals. The CIA IG uncovered improper activities in Guatemala. The Interior OIG worked with the FBI and the Justice Department to expose the Abramoff scandal—and their joint work led to the resignation and conviction of the department’s deputy secretary. Postal OIG worked along with other IG offices in uncovering fraud committed by some prominent pharmaceutical companies and it was that office that  brought to light the Lance Armstrong case. Most recently, the State Department OIG investigated the Clinton email case and, in the past few weeks the DoJ OIG has been in the news about its work in recovering lost text messages involving the FBI. But for the work of the IGs in these instances, the public and policymakers would lack vital information regarding the operations of their government.

What are recent examples of times when an IG made a difference in a government agency?

Generally, the IGs’ work shows a strong return on investment. For example, in 2016, approximately 13,000 employees at 73 OIGs conducted audits, inspections, evaluations, and investigations. Together, the work of the OIG community resulted in significant improvements to the economy and efficiency of programs government-wide, with potential savings totally approximately $45.1 billion. With the OIG community’s aggregate FY 2016 budget of approximately $2.7 billion, these potential savings represent about a $17 return on every dollar invested in the OIGs. The potential savings total includes: $2.5 billion in potential savings from audit recommendations agreed to by management, and $19.9 billion from
investigative receivables and recoveries.

Why should we care about this?

The work of the IGs is a critical component of the agency management function. As we approach the 40th Anniversary of the Inspector General Act of 1978, the work of the BPC in this area can help Congress focus its attention on strengthening and modernizing the way IGs conduct their work. We care about how IGs carry out their work since congressional oversight is enhanced through the effective practices of the IGs. IGs, in reporting to the agency heads and Congress, are an important piece of the puzzle in assuring the effective and efficient operations of government.

Read about the task force and its members.
Listen to Sirius XM radio interview with Dan Blair regarding the task force’s work

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